On Sept. 27, my brother and I were lucky enough to attend the San Jose Sharks‘ inaugural Fan Fest event, which was held at the Shark Tank (aka SAP Center) from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as the Sharks had a preseason home game that night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Having attended the Sharks’ home game the night prior against the Arizona Coyotes, my brother and I stayed the night at Hotel De Anza, which is just down the street (0.4 miles) from the Shark Tank and gave us no excuse to be late to the event.
Upon entering the Tank through the South Entrance, we were handed our complimentary home schedule posters and then made our way up the stairs to watch the Sharks team practice. Having never seen a Sharks practice live before, this was a new and cool experience for me. One drill that stood out to me was the players having to skate around a milk crate with a hockey stick propped up on each side and fire a shot on goal in one motion. In addition, I enjoyed watching the odd man rush drills (offense skated in 2-on-1 and the second defender had to catch up) as well as hearing associate coach Larry Robinson conduct the face-off drill. The highlight of practice though was watching Brent Burns during the shootout drill as he always had a comment and smile after every move attempt.
Once practice concluded at 10 a.m., my brother and I headed up to the concourse and noticed a huge line had formed near the stairs that led to tables where I’ve seen fans eat during game night. As we walked closer to the line, we saw a sign that read “Autograph Session 2″ but it didn’t say which players were signing.
Not wanting to wait in line that long not knowing who we were going to see, we continued walking around the concourse and found S.J. Sharkie near the North Entrance taking photos with fans whom had gathered around. It was worth the wait to get a picture with Sharkie as he made each picture unique and memorable by doing something silly that made everyone around and in the picture smile.
After getting our individual pictures with Sharkie, my brother and I continued our walk around the concourse and noticed a second long line had formed for the “Autograph Session 1″ but again, no names were listed as to who would be signing. Eventually, we were back standing in front of section 201 and noticed a third long line slightly to our right that was for the Shark Head photo. Realizing this was a rare opportunity, we immediately jumped in line around 10:35 a.m. and watched the line grow longer and longer behind us.
For the first 25-30 minutes, the line hardly moved. In fact, a female usher walked by several times and said the line was going to be cut off at 1:00 pm and that it was up to us if we wanted to take the chance of staying in line without getting a picture in front of the Shark Head. With as slow as the line had moved, that possibility seemed like a true reality. However, something unexpected happened around 11 a.m. and that was the line began moving at a consistent and rapid pace. By 11:20 a.m, we were making our way down the aisle stairs towards the Shark Head and the excitement kicked in again.
I never realized how big the Shark Head truly is until I was standing right in front of it. As we walked onto the mat laid out on the ice, I looked around the inside of the Shark Head in awe as this was truly an unbelievable experience. Once through, the staff photographers took our photo in front of the Shark Head and handed us the card so we could retrieve our picture off the website.
After heading back up to the concourse, my brother and I agreed we made the right decision to get our picture in front of the Shark Head instead of waiting in line for the autograph sessions, especially after we found out pictures couldn’t be taken with players, which was what I was hoping to do.
At 11:45 a.m., we made our way outside to the Kids Zone on the side street, where we each got an individual picture on the Zamboni and I won a Sharkie Reverse-A-Pal by answering a trivia question while waiting in line to do the shootout booth.
The question asked was what is the height of new Sharks enforcer John Scott? My hand immediately shot up because I am the same height as Scott, which is 6’8″. However, the DJ conducting the trivia contest spotted another person first and called him up to his stage. Luckily for me, the gentleman gave an incorrect answer by saying Scott is 6’3″. My hand shot up again and this time the DJ spotted me, called me up and was in awe of my height. After I gave the correct answer of 6’8″, the DJ got off the stage to compare his height to mine and said, “Wow. (John) Scott is going to be huge and near seven feet tall on skates.” The DJ then proceeded to grab my jersey for a mock fight and threw mock punches that didn’t even reach my mouth, which gave the crowd a good laugh.
Once back in line for the shootout booth, my brother actually had to pull my arm down because I raised it again to answer the next trivia question of what former Sharks defenseman use to wear number 27, which of course was Bryan Marchment.
At the shootout booth, I got a few “ooooo” and “aaaahhhh” from the crowd when I scored back-to-back goals going top shelf in the left corner. I have no clue how I did that but I would like to attribute it to my 20-plus years of hockey video game playing on Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation, Nintendo 64, Playstation 2 and Xbox 360.
As we left the shootout booth, we headed backed to Hotel De Anzal to checkout, which brought an end to our Sharktastic weekend as we couldn’t stay for the game later in the evening.
While Fan Fest was fun, there is always room for improvement and I have a few suggestions that hopefully the Sharks organization will implement for the 2015 Fan Fest event:
- Make Fan Fest a two day weekend (or extend the hours for the day) when no games are scheduled so fans can experience everything there is to offer and not feel rushed.
- Use all of SAP Center by having Sharks players (current and alumni) spread out at various booths so fans can line up for pictures and autographs.
- Have an available itinerary online a week or two before the event that lists who will be there and what time they will be doing signings/pictures so fans can plan out who they would like to see and at what times.
- Have a booth set up where fans can sit down with Randy Hahn or Dan Rusanowsky to do commentary on a classic Sharks clip and have the audio recorded so fans have a lifetime memory.
- Mic up the Q&A sessions to the arena speakers so everyone inside SAP Center can hear what is being said as they wait in line.
As I awoke on the morning of Sept. 7, 2011, I reached for my phone to see what was new on my Twitter timeline. At the top of my timeline were tweets about a plane crash involving an entire hockey team. Immediately, I grabbed the remote and turned the television on to ESPN, whom had images of a plane crash with a “Breaking News” graphic.
Within seconds of having the television on ESPN, I heard the SportsCenter anchor say, “In case you’re just joining us, a Russian jet carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) has crashed, killing 43 on board.” After hearing and seeing what had happened, I said out loud, “Yaroslavl Lokomotiv?… Isn’t that the team San Jose Sharks draftee Daniil Sobchenko plays for?”
Born in Kyiv on April 13, 1991, Sobchenko began playing hockey by accident when at age six, his father (and first coach) Yevgeny Sobchenko asked him if he wanted to come along as he was going to play hockey with friends, to which Daniil replied, “of course, let’s go!”
Under the guidance of his father, Daniil was enrolled at the Sokil Kyiv‘s hockey school and competed against older children while playing for the local youth teams “Icicle”, “Falcon” and “Orbit”. At age 10, Daniil, who modeled his game after his hockey hero Sergei Fedorov, finished as the leading scorer in a youth tournament and his hockey talents were noticed by Yaroslavl.
“Immediately, they called me at home and invited me to play in Yaroslavl,” said Daniil in a 2010 interview with Alessandro Seren Rosso for sports-planet.ru. “But my parents told me I had to stay home for another year.”
A year later, Daniil was asked by Spartak-90 to attend their July training camp in Moscow. A few days later, Daniil received a call from Yaroslavl and was asked to tryout for their 91-team. Having to make a tough choice, Daniil said goodbye to his childhood and hello to adulthood as he decided to go play for Lokomotiv due to a couple of coaches being there from Kyiv and not having many options for hockey in his hometown.
“At first, it was a bit hard, but then I got use to everything and everything was alright,” said Daniil.
Joining Lokomotiv-1991 in 2002 as a fifth grader, Daniil helped the team win multiple silver and bronze medals in various tournaments throughout Russia over the next five years. Not only was Daniil excelling on the ice, he was also excelling academically by showing the same commitment to his grades as he did his hockey game, evident by him sitting in the front of row of classes and rigorously studying, even when having break time.
“From the outset, Daniil set a goal – to achieve great results,” said Yaroslavl school number 9 sports class headmistress Elvira Ozimova in a Sept. 2011 interview with Michael Kontuev and Elena Zaitseva for the Yaroslavl Komsomolskaya Pravda website.
Though Daniil did get into a fight at school that went on the record, it was that moment that caused Daniil to realize he had to behave more reasonable in difficult situations. “Daniil could fight but he wasn’t a bully,” said Ozimova. “He, as a man, knew how to stand up for himself and for loved ones.”
Not afraid to take a leadership role on the team and speak up when something needed to be said, Daniil showed the same leadership inside the classroom by making a simple comment to quiet classmates if they were distracting the class by talking or acting up.
Confident knowing he was following his life goal, Daniil was ready to embark on the next chapter of his hockey career.
In his first season (2007-08) with Lokomotiv’s junior farm team, Lokomotiv-2, 16-year old Daniil registered 13 points on six goals and seven assists in 22 games. Furthermore, Daniil skated for Russia at the 2007 U17 World Hockey Challenge, where he registered four points on three goals and one assist in four games.
The following season, 2008-09, Daniil torched the third tier league for 87 points on 44 goals and 43 assists to go along with 53 penalty minutes in 66 games.
Expected to become a star of the Russian Minor Hockey League (MHL), the relatively unknown playmaking center sent shock-waves throughout the Russian hockey realm when he earned a spot on Lokomotiv’s KHL team for the 2009-10 season after a solid preseason effort.
“I think there is nothing unexpected,” said Daniil. “Yes, it is quite possible that I could play in the MHL and show good results there, but you need to grow, progress and strive to play at the highest level. However, I am glad to play for our youth team and am ready to help them.”
In 35 games with Lokomotiv’s KHL team, Daniil registered six points on five goals and one assist, and had four assists in six games for Lokomotiv’s MHL team, Loko Yaroslavl.
The 2010-11 season saw Daniil split time between Lokomotiv’s KHL team, where he registered two points on one goal and one assist in 16 games, and Loko Yaroslavl, where he registered 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. Daniil rejoined Lokomotiv for their KHL playoff run and had one assist and 16 penalty minutes in 11 games.
In addition to playing for both Lokomotiv teams during the 2010-11 season, Daniil was the captain of the Russian Selects squad that achieved their first series win over the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) All-Stars at the 2010 Subway Super Series, and helped Russia win the Gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
Having never made the Russian national junior team in past years due to conflicts with former head coach Vladimir Plyuschev, Daniil showcased his talents by registering seven points on four goals and three assists in seven games as he centered the top line alongside Maxim Kitsyn and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Though his skills wowed fans watching the World Junior Championships, the one moment Daniil was best remembered for was when he shouted, “MOM, I DID IT!” into the camera lens after the team’s victory over Canada in the gold medal game. In fact, Daniil didn’t take his medal or jersey off for several days following the win, to which some teammates joked Daniil was getting “star fever”. However, Daniil didn’t care. He felt on top of the world and was ready to conquer new challenges.
As a result of being a key component to Russia’s gold medal team at the World Junior Championships, Daniil vaulted himself from unknown name to possible National Hockey League (NHL) draftee.
Liking his playmaking abilities, strong hockey IQ, work ethic, passing and skating game (both with and without the puck), the Sharks selected Daniil with the 166th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. A couple of weeks later, Daniil, who was the Sharks’ first draft pick from a Russian team since defenseman Andrei Zyuzin in 1996, was in San Jose for the Sharks’ rookie development camp.
“I had a whole schedule there,” Daniil said in Russian for a Sept. 2011 interview with Rosso for Hockeysfuture.com. “I had to get up at 6 AM as at 6:45 we had to go to the practices. There, we had both breakfast and lunch. And I would get back to the hotel only at 6 PM. We had two ice sessions a day, some gym, and two or three summits every day.
“The practices were varied, there was always something new. I learned many new things. And I also want to add that the organization here, it’s truly superior (to the KHL).”
While his hockey skills spoke volumes at Sharks development camp that week, Daniil told Rosso the English language was a hurdle he had to overcome. “It’s when you don’t understand everything they say, but it was a little bit better day after day. But I always managed to do all the drills, I also could look at what other players were doing. Summits were hard, I had to sit there and just listen for two to three hours per day.”
After Sharks development camp ended, Daniil returned home to Yaroslavl and began preparing for Lokomotiv’s 2011-12 KHL season opener against Dinamo Minsk.
On Sept. 7, 2011, the Lokomotiv hockey team, coaching staff and several prospect players boarded a Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger aircraft from Yak-Service to travel to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for their season opening game.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck as the plane ran off the near 3,000-meter runway, struck a tower mast about 500 meters from the end of the runway when trying to gain altitude from on the grass field and crashed into the banks of the Volga River about 1.2 miles from Tunoshna Airport.
Of the 45 people on the flight, 43 died at the scene. Lokomotiv forward Alexander Galimov was put into a medically induced coma after suffering burns on 80 percent of his body and died five days later. Only the flight mechanic, Alexander Sizov, who was also put into a medically induced coma, survived.
Among those who perished in the crash were Daniil, former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek, Alexander Vasyunov, Karlis Skrastins, Stefan Liv, and coaches Brad McCrimmon, Alexander Karpovtsev, and Igor Korolev.
There were a handful of factors that contributed to the crash, all of which were chronicled in the investigation report that was released two months after the crash, and highlighted in a Jan. 2013 Mayday, aka Air Crash Investigation, documentary on the National Geographic channel.
While First Office Igor Zhevelov, who was the Senior Vice President of Flight Operations for Yak-Service, and Captain Andrei Solomentsev, who was a close friend of Zhevelov, had thousands of hours of flight experience, the duo weren’t properly trained to fly the Yak-42 aircraft as Zhevelov had not completed his Yak-42 training program and Solomentsev was using falsified documents.
Records showed Zhevelov logged 12,879 hours flying Yak-40’s compared to 613 hours flying Yak-42’s, and Solomentsev logged 4,692 hours flying Yak-40’s compared to 1,525 hours flying Yak-42’s. In addition, Zhivelov pulled rank so he could fly with his “hockey heroes.”
The plane had more than enough speed to ascend properly at the 1200-meters mark on the runway but it was discovered Zhevelov kept his foot on the brake without realizing it (the Yak-40 airplanes brake design cupped the entire foot whereas the Yak-42 airplanes brake design allowed the heel to rest on the floor). Zhevelov’s medical records revealed he had secretly been treated for a nerve condition called Polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that affects the body’s extremities and causes weakness along with loss of sensation.
When the plane ran off the runway at 220 kph (136.7 mph), captain Solomentsev moved the controls to abort the takeoff. Upon seeing this action, flight engineer Vladimir Matyushin, who was the third man in the cockpit, decreased engine power by putting the engines in neutral. However, Zhevelov disagreed and Solomentsev reversed his decision, ordering Matyushin to put the engines up to full power for a takeoff attempt.
“Had they rejected takeoff three-to-five seconds after attempting to rotate, they would’ve still stopped on the clearway and everybody would’ve just walked away,” said JAKA-42 pilot Wiktor Jermolajew in the documentary.
In the wake of the crash, Yak-Service had their license revoked by Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, aka Rosaviatsia, and went out of business shortly thereafter. Furthermore, the airlines former vice president, Vadim Timofeev, was charged in connection with the crash one-year later for allowing the unqualified crew to illegally fly the Yak-42 instead of having the crew attend their scheduled re-education sessions to gain the proper permits to fly a Yak-42.
Members of the Sharks organization recalled Daniil’s time in San Jose as he left a lasting impression with those he had came in contact with.
“Daniil attended our development camp this past July and everyone on our staff agreed that he had a bright future with our organization,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson in a statement on the Sharks website in the hours after the plane crash. “He was an amazing person with a fun-loving personality and his attitude and energy during his time in San Jose was infectious.”
“For him, it took a lot of courage to come here as a young player and basically speak no English,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan of Daniil to the Mercury News’ David Pollak the day of the crash. “But he fit in really well. He had an energy about him. We really liked him as a player. We had actually hoped he would commit to playing in Worcester this year.”
Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, who was Daniil’s roommate during development camp, revealed to Pollak that the Sharks’ scouting staff and Daniil’s girlfriend, whom Daniil spoke to via Skype, were pushing Daniil to learn English.
“At times, it was tough for him to understand some of the coaching points, but talent-wise, he was one of the best,” said Wingels to Pollak. “He skated well, he could shoot the puck.”
Though tickets had been sold long in advance of the game, not one ticket holder asked for a refund as the ceremony was held inside a packed Minsk-Arena full of mourning fans, each of whom had brought flowers. Also in attendance was the entire Belarusian leadership, including President Alexander Lukashenko.
With the orchestra’s voice filling the arena, the Dinamo Minsk players skated onto the ice, individually took a knee behind one of the 37 large portraits of the deceased Lokomotiv players and staff, and proceeded to guide the puck at each portrait into their own net to symbolize a defeat to Lokomotiv. At the other end of the ice, members of the Belarusian national hockey team laid flowers inside the goal crease in Lokomotiv’s memory.
As family, friends and significant others did their best to cope with the loss of their loved ones, Daniil’s younger brother Ilya dealt with the tragedy in his own way that was highlighted on a translated tumblr posting by user “aether-wings“:
“The younger brother of Daniil Sobchenko, 6-year old Ilya, took the incident in his own way, much as a child. He knows that his beloved Daniil was killed, as I know my brother is still out there. A few days ago, he promised his mother and father that when he gets older, he will be a champion, like his Dan. To hold off injury to the psyche of the small boy, the parents told him that Daniil is now among the stars in the sky, to watch over them all.
Yesterday, Ilya went to the balcony and asked me to show that star, who is now Daniil, – My mother Irina said ‘in a shaking voice’ – that the sky was dark and the stars could not be seen. Ilya leaned over to me to say ‘Mom, I want him to hug me again.’ because Dan was always very fond of him. He never came without gifts for the boy. He would never take him on the railway, only in a car. Only the best for his brother. Ilya once told me: ‘There is no Santa Claus, It’s all my brother!’
Now, Ilya’s favorite toy is an airplane, in which the child wrote ‘Yak-42′, and when he plays with it, he tries hard always to hold it tight, not to let it drop, not to let if fall.”
As “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited blared over the speakers and the roar of 17,190 fans filled San Jose Arena, the San Jose Sharks made their entrance through the Shark Head for a game that wasn’t on the official National Hockey League (NHL) schedule. In fact, the Sharks weren’t even playing a fellow NHL team. On this night (Jan. 8, 1994), the Sharks’ opponent for this radio only broadcast was the 1994 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
The Sharks, who came into the game with a 12-21-9 record (four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference), were the sixth and final NHL squad to play Team USA, who had etched out a 33-14-5 record during their pre-Olympic exhibition schedule.
Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time the Sharks and Team USA had faced off against each other. During the Sharks’ inaugural season (1991-92), the squads played twice with Team USA taking both games, a 5-4 overtime win on Sept. 21, 1991 in Cleveland and a 6-2 win on Nov. 17, 1991 at the Cow Palace.
With the starters lined up on their respective blue lines for the singing of the National Anthem by Dennis Leach, Sharks fans in attendance noticed team teal had a different look. A day prior, Sharks head coach Kevin Constantine decided to rest his veteran players, which included Gaetan Duchense, Todd Elik, Bob Errey, Johan Garpenlov, Rob Gaudreau (late scratch), Arturs Irbe, Mike Lalor, Sergei Makarov and Rob Zettler.
In their place were youngsters Alexander Cherbayev, Wade Flaherty, Vlastimil Kroupa, Andrei Nazarov, Michal Sykora and Dody Wood, all of whom were called up from the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League (IHL) specifically for the Team USA game.
It didn’t take long for coach Constantine’s decision to pay off as Cherbayev put the Sharks ahead 1-0 just 67-seconds into the game when he fired a shot from the left faceoff circle past Team USA goaltender Mike Dunham. Sharks forwards Jaroslav Otevrel and Ray Whitney registered the assists.
With play in the Sharks zone minutes after Cherbayev’s goal, Team USA forward Peter Ferraro carried the puck behind the net and sent a behind-the-net pass out in front to defenseman Peter Laviolette, who beat Sharks goaltender Jimmy Waite from point blank range for the tying goal at 5:41 just as the holding the stick minor penalty to Nazarov expired. Team USA forward Todd Marchant picked up the secondary assist.
The Sharks regained the lead 72-seconds later when during 4-on-4 play, Sharks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh got the puck over to Whitney, who from in front of the left faceoff circle faked out Dunham with a deke and slid the puck into the net for his second point of the night.
Sharks forward Dale Craigwell extended the lead to 3-1 at 16:26 when off a Sharks steal at center ice, Craigwell corralled an up ice pass from Cherbayev and beat Dunham on a breakaway. Sharks defenseman Shawn Cronin had the secondary assist.
In the second period, Marchant cut the Sharks lead in half at 4:22 when he beat Waite for his second point of the game. Team USA forward Chris Ferraro, the twin brother of Peter, and defenseman Ian Moran were credited with the assists.
As was the case in the first period when Laviolette scored, the Sharks quickly answered back after Marchant’s goal, this time in 73-seconds, to regain their two goal lead as forward Pat Falloon capitalized on Team USA’s inability to clear the puck away from in front of Dunham. The assists on Falloon’s goal went to Ozolinsh and Nazarov.
Near the midway point of the period (9:44 to be exact), coach Constantine switched goalies as Waite, who made 17 saves on 19 shots, was relieved for Flaherty.
With the Sharks on their first (and only) power play of game late in the period, Ozolinsh stretched the lead to 5-2 when he ripped the puck past Dunham at 17:26 for his third point of the game. Sharks forwards Otevrel and Jeff Odgers picked up the assists.
Just as it appeared the Sharks were going to take a three goal lead into the second intermission, Kroupa was assessed a holding penalty at 18:39, and Team USA forward Mark Beaufait, who tried out for the Olympic team instead of returning to the Blades after being cut in Sharks training camp, tipped linemate David Roberts‘ shot past Flaherty for the power play goal at 19:19. Team USA defenseman Barry Richter had the secondary assist.
After a scoreless first half of the third period, Team USA forward Brain Rolston fired a snap shot past Flaherty at 11:37 to cut the Sharks lead to one goal. Team USA forward Chris Ferraro and defenseman Matt Martin registered the assists.
Despite out-shooting the Sharks 13-4 in the third period and 38-18 for the game, Team USA couldn’t get the tying goal past Flaherty, who finished with 17 saves on 19 shots.
“There were three things that we wanted to do: rest our veterans, play some guys that have been fairly inactive for our team, and look at some of the younger guys,” said Constantine in a post game interview with the media.
“I thought we played a pretty good hockey game,” Team USA head coach Tim Taylor said post game to the media. “I think we limited the quality chances that the Sharks had. They got some nice goals in the first period, but we basically misplayed the initial rush. Other than that, I thought we played pretty well.”
Even though the Sharks’ win didn’t count in the NHL standings, Sharks fans in attendance that night and the Sharks organization became a part of U.S. Hockey history as the ’94 Olympic team was the last squad to feature a group of players with little or no professional experience.
I would like to thank Mark Purdy of the Mercury News for emailing me the paper’s game recap and box score archive; Sharks radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky for messaging me the game lines; and Sharks Media Relations Coordinator Jason Plank for sending me the pictures seen in this article as well as the official game sheet and archived articles.
Others who deserve a mention are Michael Malone and David Pollak of the Mercury News, Jasmine Grotto of USA Hockey, UC Berkley Assistant Professor Richard Koci Hernandez and Harry Thompson of USA Hockey Magazine.
To the Sharks fans who took the time to help me with this article by proof reading it, thank you. Your suggestions, edits and reactions to the article are what made me keep going every time a possible lead hit a dead end . This article is for all of you.
Over the last several seasons, one of the most anticipated Worcester Sharks promotional event has been their movie poster giveaways, which occur during the winter and spring.
Living in California, I’ve been fortunate to have some great Worcester fans pick up an extra poster on the giveaway nights and send the poster out to me for my collection. Seeing these posters framed is the definition of true sports art (at least to a Sharks fan like myself ).
Below are the eight movie posters that have been released to date and are in reverse chronological order.